A/N As you all know by now, I own nothing except my heart's desire to see Adrian and Natalie have a happy ending.


Today was October 14, 2010. Today was the thousandth day. The thousandth day since they'd been locked in that damn bank vault together with Randy and Leland. January 18, 2008. A thousand calendar days. Two and three-quarter years, plus a leap day thrown in there for good measure. That made him a little crazy. That leap day. Natalie had made such a production of leap day in 2008. Dear God, you'd have thought it was Christmas the way she'd gone on about it. Yet, thinking back the two and a half years now, he smiled. As many people did, she confused it with Sadie Hawkins' day, and he had set her straight. After that little lesson, she'd been disappointed, but she still insisted on taking him on a "ladies' choice date."

It was one of only a handful of dates he'd been on since Trudy had died, and truly the only one where he'd been himself and as comfortable as he could ever get and still be, well, him. He had not been nervous, had not needed notecards, and had not "Monked-out," as Leland claimed he did on his other semi-disastrous dates. After all, it was Natalie. If there was anyone in the world he could be comfortable with, it was Natalie. She insisted going on a date with her would be excellent practice if he ever decided that he wanted to attempt the real thing again. They'd had a fun time together, eating at a new restaurant for them both - they had cajun food, and it was spicy and delicious. His once very picky habits had begun to subside over the years they'd spent together. She encouraged him to experiment a little, and he found he liked everything from Texas-style ribs to creole cooking. He still wouldn't necessarily touch his food… he'd used some napkins with the ribs and a knife and fork with pizza, but he was learning, growing. He still didn't like things to touch on his plate. That one might never go away. But he did try to mix tastes of things with Natalie's patient urging. No one had ever pushed him so far out of his comfort zone. Not his family. Not Trudy. Only Natalie could get him to try and do things that scared the bejeezus out of him otherwise. Only Natalie and her bright smile, her nose with the crinkle when she smiled, and her sparkling peridot eyes could cajole him in just the right way. She'd cleared a path into his heart like no one else ever had.

On the night of their leap day "date," they were both still coming to terms with a run of horrible events. They'd saved the governor's life and come home from being on the run together just the previous week. Natalie cried a little at dinner, which made him uncomfortable for a few minutes when she told him how upset she was when she thought he was dead. He looked into her pretty green eyes and thought he saw something in them that he hadn't ever seen there before but decided it was simply his imagination working overtime. He knew he'd been having intermittent feelings of longing for her that had nothing to do with her being his assistant and everything to do with her being a beautiful woman. It started when they were locked in the bank vault the month previous and growing strong as the disaster of the encounter in Angel and his subsequent incarceration, escape, and faked death unfolded.

He'd spent a good part of that night in the vault cuddled in her lap. He had still been terrified, but he felt marginally better there touching her, next to her. Listening to her soft voice always made him calm. Her hand had run through his hair, and he hadn't felt that kind of comfort in eleven long years. Her touch always soothed him. Even that night, the intellectual part of his mind found it interesting that Natalie knew exactly what he needed and was always able to provide it - even if she was terrified too. Emotionally, he was afraid to think too deeply about his feelings towards Natalie. He knew even then that his feelings were changing and had been for a little while, but that night in the bank vault when he thought they might die, more specifically when he thought she might die, the thoughts and feelings had solidified into a severe problem. He realized he'd fallen in love with her.

Now, a thousand days since then, through a frame-up for a murder that saw her help him escape custody… The goodbye in the courthouse…her arms around him and…Oh! Those fleeting moments in her upstairs bathroom they had almost… they had come so close, so close, so damn close. Despite his fear, the kick of adrenaline coursing through him gave him some courage; he had wanted to kiss her then, hold her and reassure her and himself. Those days, that week, the hours without her had indeed been a hell of his own making. Then she came to rescue him in Nevada so he'd know he wasn't alone, putting everything on the line for him. Kissing him a million times all over his face. He hadn't wanted the damn wipe. If Rollins hadn't interrupted, even though he'd been upset with her for putting herself in harm's way, he might have kissed her back, for real.

So again, he thought, it was a thousand days behind him since he recognized what his heart yearned for so desperately. What his body ached for so profoundly. What his mind knew he wanted more than anything else on Earth. He knew he had to tell her or drive himself insane… or more insane than he already was making himself with the counting. One thousand was a nice round number. Perfect for this occasion.

Tonight they were going out to celebrate his birthday. Fifty-one. He'd made another year. What did Randy say about birthdays? Another trip around the sun. Last year she surprised him. Given him a magnificent celebration. This year he wanted it to be just the two of them. So last week, when she asked him how he wanted to celebrate this year, he said he wanted another "practice date." She laughed and agreed readily to take him on a birthday date. Little did she know what he had in mind for the gift he was going to request.

𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ𝕸ɳ

As it turned out, Natalie had their "birthday date" on her mind as well all week and decided to do something big. Not as big as last year's party, but instead to take a significant risk and put everything on the line. She'd been lying to herself for years, finding herself hurtling deeper into heartache with each day she spent falling more deeply into love with Adrian Monk. So she decided that she would tell him how she felt, no matter the consequences. But first, she would plan the date of a lifetime. She dropped him off at the police station that morning with a promise to return to pick him up later on. She had, in truth, asked Leland to drop him off at her house no earlier than five o'clock, no later than six.

She set the scene and would lure him to a spot he would feel comfortable in but would still be romantic and private. At least she would make it that way.

"Hi, Mr. Monk! Her voice sang over the telephone when she reached him that afternoon.

"Natalie, what's going on?"

"Well, my appointment is taking longer than I anticipated. Can you see if the captain will drop you at my place on his way home?"

"Of course. Are you alright?"

Natalie smiled; a short few years ago, he would have been so annoyed at her not coming to get him that he wouldn't have cared how she was… now he was inquiring after her well-being. Maybe there was hope. "Yes, thanks. I'm fine. Just trying to be done so I can be on time for you!"

Adrian heard the smile in her voice and was able to picture it in his mind. The vision made his cheeks warm and the rest of him tingle. "Okay, I'll see you in a little while."

"Great!"

Natalie had been working on this "birthday date" project all week. First, she went into her garage and found the old canopy tent she had used for shelter at Julie's many sporting events over the years. It was white and had been tightly covered, so it was still in excellent condition. She inspected it carefully as she put it up and anchored the metal poles into place with some bricks on the patio in her backyard. Then she took yards and yards of sparkly, silvery, white tulle she had from some project she and Julie had done for one of her plays and draped it around the poles and hung it almost like bug netting, but so much prettier, around the sides. She knew Adrian would only eat outside if there were no bugs. Then, she took the battery-powered fairy lights down from above the door, mirror, and window of Julie's bedroom, put new batteries in the power packs, and added those to the tent poles. Next, she brought the small square folding table up from the basement and made sure the table legs were even and the table didn't rock. Then two of the folding chairs came up as well. Thankfully, San Francisco's weather had cooperated for the week leading up to the birthday date. So for today, all that was left was setting the table, bringing Julie's portable satellite radio outside, and a final spider and bug sweep.

After those few things were attended to, Natalie went inside to prepare their dinner. She had created a menu that would be elegant but simple. Grilled filet mignon, the tiny peas that he preferred, and french onion twice baked potatoes. He would be pleased and content. Earlier in the day, when she was supposedly at the doctor for her annual physical, she'd picked up a simple birthday cake. Vanilla cake, cherry filling, vanilla buttercream. All of which were his favorites.

A few hours of preparations of both food and beauty flew by, and it was five-thirty. He'd be there any minute. He'd called and said they were leaving the police station about fifteen minutes before. Butterflies filled her stomach. She peeked out the back door and looked at what she had created and was pleased; she hoped he would be too. The sun was down on this mid-October evening; the candlelight mixed with the moonlight was intoxicating to look at—even from afar.

Twenty minutes went by, and she heard a car pull up. She went out to the porch to wait and caught the end of their farewells.

"…again, Leland, I appreciate it!" Adrian said before shutting the door. Natalie appraised him silently as she watched him turn. He looked wonderful today, different. A charcoal gray jacket and lighter gray slacks, a pristine white shirt…and a tie. The tie had gray stripes and a bold red stroke across the stripes. This was certainly new. Natalie didn't know that Adrian had made Leland shop with him at lunchtime that very afternoon. Like a teen shopping for prom with his dad. He'd had everything dry cleaned at the one-hour cleaners near the police station and then changed in Leland's office before they left. Of course, only after all three doors were carefully locked and the blinds precisely drawn. But now, he waved Leland off and turned towards Natalie's front steps. As he turned, he looked up and spied Natalie waiting for him on the porch. She was smiling and raised her right hand in greeting. He forgot to breathe for a moment because she was simply breathtaking. Her dress was emerald with an overlay of black lace. A small satiny bow was wrapped at her trim waist. The dress boasted long lace sleeves but left her willowy shoulders bare. The full skirt of the dress hit her knees and left her long legs bare and perfect down to her feet in their high black heels. She shimmered in the porch light, and Adrian felt his heart skip a beat as he ascended the stairs. Again the overwhelming urge to kiss her rose in him. This time he didn't wholly quash it - he honored the feeling by brushing his lips against her cheek in greeting and nearly fainted from the heady scent of her perfume and her nearness. "Hello," he whispered quietly.

"Hello yourself," she responded with her perfect smile. "Don't you look handsome?

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"You are stunning tonight, Natalie. Thank you for agreeing to go on another practice date with me for my birthday."

She smiled demurely. "Thank you. And of course, anything for you, Adrian." He felt himself begin to perspire at the way she looked at him when she said those words. She'd called him Adrian.

"So, what's the plan?"

She took her left hand out from behind her back, and he saw it held a black satin mask. "First, you need to put this on."

"What?"

"I want you to get the full effect of your birthday date all at once."

"Natalie…"

"Please…" she coaxed in just the right way.

He was helpless in the face of that charm. In the face of that beautiful face. He donned the mask and allowed Natalie to walk him into her house. His arm felt like it was aflame where she touched even through the jacket and the shirt he was wearing. It was unsettling and wonderful all at once. When they got in the door, after two attempts, she aimed him, and because he knew her home almost as well as he knew his own, his internal compass began working. Long ago, he memorized the number of steps from room to room, door to door, and knew now she was leading him to the patio.

As the door squeaked a little on its hinges, he stepped out and down and then down twice more. Without touching the railing. He heard soft music with a Latin influence playing nearby. Then he smelled something delicious. Did she make him dinner at home for their practice birthday date?

"Okay, it's time to stop and take off the mask."

He did so gladly, only to have her step away from him and watch as he took in what was in front of him. Candles. Dozens of flameless candles glowed around the perimeter of the patio and on the table set for two. The table was beautifully set with dishes he'd never seen before, square dishes. Square water glasses, napkins folded into squares. Did she buy all of that for tonight? The table was beautifully covered with green damask and white lace. So were the chairs. Tiny lights were glowing green and pink and yellow and blue and purple weaved in some sort of gauzy netting all around the tent that stood in the middle of the patio. It was truly phenomenal. Once again, she'd pulled out all the stops and gone through a lot of trouble for him. Maybe it was possible…

Natalie clasped her hands together tightly to keep from joyfully clapping, smiled, and rocked on the balls of her feet as she watched his face go from surprise to wonder to tears. Her hard work had been a success; he was happy and moved.

"Natalie… I don't… I don't know what to say."

"Maybe say...you love it, you're hungry, and thank you?"

"Well, I do love it. It is spectacular. Thank you for always making me feel so special, so important. And yes, I am hungry. Very, very …ah, hungry," he said into her eyes with a look that any grown woman couldn't misinterpret. She flushed prettily, and it was his turn to feel in control for a moment. How wonderful it felt to have the power to make her blush!

"Okaaay," she said in a rush of breath, "take a seat and let me bring your dinner to the table." Adrian seated himself and placed his napkin on his lap while Natalie rushed over to a cooler by the grill and removed a glass bowl with a crisp salad as well as two bottles of chilled water. She set those on the table and served each of them some salad, and poured their water. Then she sat down herself. They ate quietly for a few minutes. The salad was good. It was one of a few things Adrian ate where he allowed foods to be mixed. Although when they'd met, he was deathly afraid of salmonella and other diseases from lettuce, Natalie assured him long ago she ate salad almost every day, and so he, too, began to eat it. So far, they'd both survived.

Shyly, Adrian said, "This must have taken so much of your free time, Natalie."

"It was worth skipping the gym a few times just to see the expression on your face."

He swallowed hard and squeaked, "Real…" he cleared his throat and tried again. "Really?"

She covered his hand with hers. "Yes, really."

They sat for a moment, lost in the depths of each other's eyes. Natalie regained her senses first. "Are you through with the salad?"

"What?" He asked as he was startled from his thoughts.

"Salad. Are you finished?"

"Oh. Uh. Yes. I am. Finished."

Natalie rose to clear the dishes, and Adrian rose to help her. Their bodies collided at the corner of the table. Once again, they looked into the other's eyes. This time they noticed the blush that stained the other's cheeks and the feeling of their bodies touching almost along their entire lengths. Again Natalie remained somewhat composed.

"Adrian, you sit. It's your birthday."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course, silly man." She winked, tapped him playfully on the chest, and put the dirty dishes into a waiting tub of soapy water after scraping them clean into the trash. She had thought of everything, so they didn't have to separate or go inside for anything. Next, she went to the grill, pulled on an apron and two long oven mitts, and raised the lid. She reminded him of a beautiful 1950s television housewife, perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed, a perfect homemaker at that moment. The dress, the heels, the apron. He had to smile at his Father Knows Best fantasy. Not that she wasn't a great homemaker in their century, but it was such a pretty picture she made as he watched every move. She pulled out an oval stone with a loaf of crusty bread on it and placed it in a napkin-lined oval basket. Next came several foil-covered ceramic dishes. She brought them to the table and put them on the waiting trivets. She then closed the grill's heavy lid and turned off the flames which had been set at low to keep the food warm.

Adrian sat in awe as she lifted the foil off of each serving dish, uncovering one savory and heavenly scented thing after another. Carefully she lifted the serving tongs and placed a juicy steak au poivre on the plate in front of him. Then she added what looked like a very fancy baked potato—not touching his filet. Next, she served some of the baby peas he loved in a delicate beurre blanc sauce into a small, low square bowl and placed it next to his plate. Finally, she repeated the process for herself, although her peas went on her larger plate. She sat then and pulled her chair close to the table.

"Bon appetite, I went à la français tonight. I hope you approve."

"Everything looks amazing, Natalie. The table, the food, the dishes."

"Let's find out if it tastes as good as good as it looks!" She replied. She picked up her steak knife and fork and sliced into the tender steak. She realized she hadn't spooned the au Poivre sauce over the steaks and reached for the serving dish. "Oh! Ouch!" She had forgotten the serving dishes were still hot from the grill.

Immediately, Adrian went to the cooler by the grill and grabbed some ice. He took the hand she'd hurt and held the ice directly to the burn. The cold of the ice seemed to melt quickly in the heat that was flaring between them.

"Are you alright?" He asked worriedly, looking at her face for any sign of pain.

"Yes, I'm okay, just forgetful. I…I think it'll be okay. Thank you." She tried to take her hand from his, but he held on to it firmly and brought it to his mouth. He kissed the burns on her fingers softly and looked into her eyes with wordless emotion spilling from them. Natalie brought her free hand to his cheek and whispered, "Adrian?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he did the most courageous thing he'd done in a while. He tilted his head and kissed her lips with incredible delicacy and incalculable love. When he moved away, his dark eyes looked into her light ones. "Natalie, I guess I've been hesitant, well, afraid… no, really more like terrified to tell you how I've been feeling about you, about us. But, if these last sixty seconds haven't made you aware of my feelings, then I will tell you. Natalie, sweetheart, I love you. If you want to end this date now, I will understand. But the only thing I wanted for my birthday was to spend it with you. You are the only thing I will ever want for all of the rest of my birthdays." He let out a nervous breath after his declaration.

Natalie's eyes had grown suspiciously shiny. "Well, that would be perfect, because I was planning on giving you a declaration as your birthday gift. I want to be yours. I want to be with you. Forever. In fact…" She reached beneath the table for a small gift bag which she handed to him.

Puzzled, Adrian took the bag from her and, at her urging, opened the gift inside. It was a key ring in the form of a heart-shaped locket.

"I was going to confess, after dinner," she emphasized after, "that I love you, Adrian. That I've loved you for years. But this works too." She opened the locket to show a picture of her on the left and a message on the other side in Natalie's handwriting. I will always love you.

"And I, my sweetheart, will always love you." Adrian leaned over and kissed her again. "Natalie, this is the most marvelous birthday I've ever had, but honestly, I'm starving, and I would love to eat this gorgeous meal you've prepared." Natalie laughed her tinkling laugh and agreed. So they ate, Adrian complementing her culinary skills. "This is the best meal anyone has ever made for me, Natalie. I know you're an excellent cook, but this is beyond even your usual great meals."

"Well, it had to be special for your 'practice birthday date.'" She smiled widely again. The pretext of the "practice date" was now dropped. This date was for real.

"Well, thank you again, but don't do this all the time, or I'm going to weigh twice what I weigh now!"

"Oh, so vain!"

"Not vain, just not ready to die of heart failure before I get to enjoy my life with you."

"You have no idea how finally hearing that from your lips makes me feel." Natalie's heart raced with exhilaration.

"I hope as good as it feels to finally say it out loud." Adrian grinned.

Once they finished their meal, Adrian slipped his keys onto his new keyring and pocketed the keyring he'd used for at least fifteen years. One that had been Trudy's. It was time to let a few things go so he could experience new things. Have new things and new experiences. Meanwhile, Natalie cleared away the dishes, went to the cooler, brought out the beautiful small birthday cake, and set the coffee maker to start brewing. "Dear God, Natalie… this is just beyond incredible. You outdid even last year. But let's let this sit while the coffee brews. Dance with me?"

"I'd love to." Adrian stood and took his love into his arms, and as one song ended, a new song started to play from the satellite radio. It definitely spoke to some of what Adrian was feeling, and as he held Natalie in his arms, he knew he could find the path back to the world he remembered.

I can think of younger days

When living for my life

Was everything a man could want to do

I could never see tomorrow

But I was never told about the sorrow

And how can you mend a broken heart?

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How can you stop the sun from shining?

What makes the world go round?

How can you mend this broken man?

How can a loser ever win?

Please help me mend my broken heart

And let me live again

I can still feel the breeze

That rustles through the trees

And misty memories of days gone by

We could never see tomorrow

No one said a word about the sorrow

And how can you mend a broken heart?

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How can you stop the sun from shining?

What makes the world go round?

How can you mend this broken man?

How can a loser ever win?

Please help me mend my broken heart

And let me live again*

As they moved together, Natalie laid her head on Adrian's chest. They fit together so naturally, so comfortably. Like pages in a book. They belonged together to make their story complete. They danced through two more songs and then sat for coffee and cake. They held hands on the very brief sojourn back to their seats.

Natalie lit a single candle on the top of the cake and exclaimed, "Make a wish!"

He looked at her seriously and said, "All of my wishes have already come true, Natalie. You were what I wished for yesterday and what I will always wish for on every birthday." She smiled at that. "But to please you, I will make another wish on my candle." He contemplated what he really wanted, and he blew carefully not to get spittle on the beautiful cake.

Natalie sliced it, and they carefully fed each other from their own slices. The cake was a delicious confection, and Natalie couldn't help taking a finger and wiping a teeny bit of buttercream from a corner of Adrian's mouth and then licking it from her finger before he could attack it with his napkin.

"I hope you get what you wish, love," she said meaningfully.

"Me too," he grinned a little suggestively at her, raising one eyebrow, totally surprising Natalie.

"Adrian! Really?"

He shrugged uncomfortably, "Too far?"

"No, not far enough. Yet"

She leaned in and kissed him thoroughly, and as she pulled away, she sighed.

"What?" he asked when she sighed so deeply.

"This is beyond wish-fulfillment. This is like a dream come true. I feel like we're in some kind of enchanted garden, and I'm going to wake up, and it will have all been a dream. So tell me I'm not dreaming."

He stood from the table and drew her up with him. He pulled her against his body, and they both again felt how they fit together so perfectly. Her gentle curves and tiny frame against his tall, sturdy body and muscles. He felt a jolt of electricity from his head to his toes, and every nerve ending was alive with feeling and excitement. He kissed her more deeply, their lips parting naturally, allowing them to deepen the kiss, passion ruling their bodies, instinct taking them where they both wanted to go.

"You're not dreaming," Adrian gasped when their lips parted, but his mouth quickly returned to hers, staking his claim, making his desire for her apparent and urgent.

"Let's go inside, Adrian."

"And leave the mess?" He wondered, his neurotic impulse to clean at war with his desire to continue what they had clearly just started.

"Yes, the mess will wait. We have waited far too long as it is, I think."

"Maybe just this once."

"I promise the mess will still be here later… or even tomorrow morning."

"Oh. Tomorrow morning. Oh!" he said, realizing exactly what she meant.

She carefully saved the cake—it was too good to waste, then took him by the hand and led him back into the house.

#FINIS#

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*"How Can You Mend A Broken Heart"